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A non-stop success story


Ever since privatisation in 1993, when the Colombian government opted to divest itself of its inefficient and troublesome Colpuertos network, there has only been one direction of travel for the nation’s three main Caribbean coast ports of Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla.

All three have been hugely successful, but one in particular stands out. That port is Cartagena – or, more correctly, Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Cartagena (SPRC), the company formed in the early 1990s by local investors to run the former state-owned harbor.

Fast forward 20 years or so and Cartagena is a port much admired not just in the Caribbean but around the world. And if CSA’s highly coveted Caribbean Port of the Year Award were the Jules Rimet Trophy (presented to winners of FIFA World Cups until won outright by Brazil in 1970) then SPRC’s boardroom would no doubt be the proud permanent custodian of the prestigious annual accolade.

Moreover, the company has almost single-handedly dispelled many unflattering myths once held about Colombia, a nation that is South America’s third-biggest economy and has seen remarkable growth in recent years. As, of course, has SPRC.

By any measure, this growth is hugely impressive. SPRC is estimating total container throughput figures of 2.65 million teu for calendar 2015. This would represent a rise of just over 11 per cent compared with 2014, itself a particularly busy 12 months for the port operator.


Current installed capacity is around 3.5 million teu, so there are no immediate traffic constraints. But by 2018 SPRC’s target is to reach an annual capacity of 5 million teu.

This target is assisted by the fact that the port’s access channel is already 20.5 meters deep, while depth alongside the quay is scheduled to be dredged to minus 16.5 metres by mid 2016. To handle current traffic volumes, SPRC has 15 super post panamax STS cranes and five mobile cranes of 100 tons capacity. In August SPRC took delivery of a further five new ZPMC STS super post panamax cranes and these were due to enter service during October and November. Beyond this latest delivery, SPRC has plans to install a further 21 super post panamax cranes. Meanwhile, two old post panamax cranes are scheduled to be dismantled.

There are currently 43 rubber tired gantry cranes, but SPRC ultimately hopes to operate a fleet of 74. Twelve new units are scheduled for delivery in the first two months of 2016 along with another multipurpose mobile crane.

Reach stackers

There are 14 reach stackers in operation. SPRC says these will not be added to for the time being, although it is understood that in the future units will be replaced ‘as and when’. Meanwhile, SPRC’s fleet of 154 terminal trucks is to be expanded to 169 units.

It’s not just a case of buying more and more hardware, however. SPRC is busy creating the right kind of operating environment. To this end it is building a new training center, installing better simulation software, analysing demand peaks, working on new stacking strategies and dealing with idle time and queues as well as using automated planning algorithms.

Beyond the terminal gates, SPRC is backing the creation of a new container terminal on the Magdalena River. The aim is to reduce hinterland costs and provide an alternative route from the port to a range of inland destinations.

The opening of the enlarged Panama Canal has been put back on a number of occasions, but this has allowed many ports to be more than ready for its impact on trade, and SPRC is no exception. Cassalins Delvalle, sales and marketing manager of SPRC, says: “It will allow the arrival of NPX vessels of 12,000 teu, which the Port of Cartagena is now ready to handle. And we believe this will enable the Port of Cartagena to consolidate its position as a main container transshipment hub in the Caribbean.”

SPRC is a corporation that embraces, among other assets, the SPRC Terminal, Contecar Terminal, Cartagena de Indias Cruise Ship Terminal and Terminal Fluvial de Andalucia (the river terminal, currently under development). Delvalle explains: “Our organization is responsible for 93 per cent of Cartagena´s total container throughput and 65 per cent of Colombia´s box traffic. Even though our organization handles diverse cargo types, we focus primarily on containers.”


It’s often forgotten that SPRC is not the port of Cartagena and the Port of Cartagena is not SPRC and this is illustrated by the fact that seven per cent of the port’s container traffic is not handled by the corporation. There is a subtle difference between the two that is set to become more marked as others see the strategic potential of Cartagena as a location.

So, for example, elsewhere in the port APM Terminals and the local port and terminal operating company Compañia de Puertos Asociados (Compas) have just signed a joint venture agreement to manage and operate Compas’s existing 22 hectare multipurpose Cartagena Terminal. APM Terminals and Compas will together invest over US$ 200 million in upgrading and expanding Cartagena Terminal including the purchase of state-of-the-art handling equipment.

As a result of the deal, Cartagena Terminal becomes the sixth operational Latin American facility within the APM Terminals global terminal network. When complete, the upgrade will triple the terminal’s annual throughput capacity and enable the facility to handle the larger vessels transiting the newly widened Panama Canal. While Compas will continue to be the concession holder, APM Terminals will gain a 51 per cent majority share in the joint venture that will run the terminal.

The Compas Cartagena Terminal currently has an annual throughput capacity of around 250,000 teu and 1.5 million tonnes of general cargo and is equipped with three 45-tonne Liebherr mobile cranes.


Compas, meanwhile, operates a second terminal in Cartagena specializing in the handling of grains, liquids, breakbulk cargo and vehicles, managed in association with Chile’s SAAM and Abonos Colombianos (Abocol).

In a separate development – one that reinforces Cartagena’s position as more than just a container hub – Pacific Exploration & Production Corp began operations at the new multimodal Puerto Bahía, a 55 hectare site on Isla Barú in Cartagena Bay. The terminal officially commenced liquid and bulk handling operations in August. Pacific has a 41.65 per cent equity interest in Pacific Infrastructure Ventures Inc, the private company that developed Puerto Bahía. The port, built at a cost of around US$ 600 million, consists of two terminals: a hydrocarbon terminal and a dry cargo terminal. Liquid storage will be handled by the Dutch company Oiltanking International.

So it’s not just SPRC that is expanding. It seems that Cartagena is the place to be – and not only for handling containers.


Cruising to success

It should not be forgotten that while SPRC’s success in the container sector is highly impressive, the company is also a major participant in the cruise sector.
In 2014 the Cartagena Cruise Ship Terminal handled 366,096 passengers and 149,256 crew – or 515,352 visitors in total.

The port received 219 cruise calls, a modest 3.3 per cent increase on the previous 12 months. SPRC works closely with local stakeholders on a city-based strategy to attract more international visitors. This is evident from improvements to Cartagena’s hotel infrastructure, the upgrading and expansion of Rafael Núñez International Airport and efforts to ease traffic congestion and to build new highways.